MLS’s (Just Plain Daffy) Salaries, The Joys of Central Planning

“The more I stare at the list, the more I think the majority of players can fit in either category. Can’t say I understand how Major League Soccer comes up with salary figures, but only that it doesn’t tally.”

With the number of those who have read and commented being roughly equal, I’m confident everyone now knows that the Major League Soccer (MLS) Players Union (MLSPU) has again released player salaries. I wrote the above – and don’t worry if it doesn’t make perfect sense – to wrap a post about the salaries of Colorado Rapids players that don’t add up for me for the Colorado Offside. Embarking on the same project for the Columbus Crew over here, it struck me that I don’t have anything more grand or important to say on the subject that I didn’t put into that quote. I only wish it had been more clever.

That said, there’s so many mysteries to the logic of how MLS pays their players. For instance, why does rookie defender Andy Iro pull down $53.5K guaranteed while a second-year pros like Ryan Junge and Brad Evans earn only $12.9K and $33K, respectively? And that’s without getting into something more mysterious: Adam Moffat, the star of the Crew’s victorious season opener, and a player with one more start under his belt than Iro earns only $17.7K. To spell out a familiar acronym, what the fuck? The fact that the Rapids salary structure makes even less sense only deepens the mystery.

I get the designated-player business all right and believe the salaries of veteran players hinge on free(-ish) market factors ranging from a front office’s idiocy, a player’s attentiveness to his finances, and his agent’s audacity. But things get really messy when a player just comes into the league. I have read, in the past, about why one rookie earns $12.9K; while another earns $17.7K; while still another earns $33K; and, finally, why someone like Iro makes more still: I don’t recall the particulars (help? anyone?). I tried to refresh my memory, but found more mechanics and less figures in MLSnet.com’s rules and regulations web-page. Just when I think it might be the difference between developmental and senior roster players, the Crew’s roster tells me that both Robbie Rogers ($57.5K) George Josten (sharpened stick up the ass…er, $12.9K) are listed as developmental players. Back to that drawing board…but, wait, here’s another: speaking of Rogers, how does that an up-and-comer earn a guaranteed salary a couple thousand dollars smaller than that of the distinctly less-promising Jason Garey?

In the end, it’s the rules governing new and less-established players that add up like apples, grapes, and oranges. That a bunch of players earn the $12.9K, $17.7K, and $33K figures tell me that comes down from on high – e.g. that’s a rim-‘n’-screw job designed at MLS HQ. It seems, however, that teams have discretion in paying someone like Iro more. Would that the discretion went farther.

So, yeah, call this yet another call for MLS HQ to step out of the central planning game. Set a salary cap (OK, and figure out how handle money from transfer fees; I’d vote for letting teams plow them back into salaries as incentive for developing players) and let each team sign their own players and enjoy total freedom to negotiate salaries within that cap. Keep the designated player rule if you must…but, shit, it doesn’t have to look like this….does it? If you think it does, tell me why…’cause I seriously do not get this.

Addendum
Just to throw out a couple odds and ends from the Crew’s roster, I think they have a couple reasonably priced forwards. Alejandro Moreno ($131K guaranteed) may not bang in reams of goals per annum – he has never scored more than 8 – but he does so many other things for a team to justify that salary. As for the new guy, Nico Hernandez, I thought he pulled down more than he did – $99,999.9999999, etc. guaranteed (weird number) – but believe he’s worth taking a chance on at that price. Both are pretty smart calls.

A couple salaries don’t compute, even if I understand why they are what they are. For instance, Chad Marshall’s $148K seems high for a concussion-victim-waiting-to-happen, but I’m guessing the money came before the concussions when the Crew were anxious to tie him to the team. The same goes for Ezra Hendrickson’s $72K; that’s hardly a vault-full, but it’s a lot in this league for a back-up defender.

OK, I’ll shut up. I’m not going to write a preview for this Saturday’s game against Red Bull. I mean, why guess at the result when we’ll all know who won for sure before too long? I will say this, though: a win on the road against Red Bull New York will get some tongues wagging, not least mine; I guess that’s me saying a win will surprise me. To review the likelier scenarios, I’m guessing a draw will reflect back on New York more than the Crew, but a loss? That’s what everyone expects; you’ll hear crickets everywhere but on Columbus sites.

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5 Responses

  1. Not really that mysterious — the guys at $12.9K and $17.7K are developmental and senior developmental players.

    Developmental players making more than that are Generation adidas players, which means they were enticed to leave school early and weren’t likely to do so for $12.9K.

    Rogers is a special case in the sense that he’s listed as a developmental player who isn’t a GA, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. In any case, the same principle applies — MLS had to compete for his services because he was overseas at Heerenveen.

    The senior minimum this year is $33K.

    If the MLSNET rules aren’t enough for you, check the collective bargaining agreement:
    http://www.mlsplayers.org/files/collective_bargaining_agreement__final.pdf

    Note that it expires after the 2009 season. That means the league and the players will be talking plenty about having more freedom to negotiate with teams in the next two years, though I should say they have much more freedom than they had in 1996.

    They’ll also be discussing developmental player salaries, but it’s important to note that they were added as part of a massive roster expansion. In the past, those guys simply wouldn’t have had MLS jobs at all. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number come up in the next CBA — it’s bad PR, and too many of these guys end up making substantial contributions beyond a few reserve games.

  2. Ah, c’mon, Dure. Cut us amateurs some slack. .

    Seriously now, I just like the idea of a basic cap and letting the teams divvy them under that restriction. You could then do away with all the senior minimums, two-tiers of developmental salaries, “special cases” like Rogers. I’m sure the league values having the specific categories, though, as it simplifies negotiations with a player (e.g. “No, this is what you can make because you’re a _____.”)

    All the same, thanks for the link. I look forward to reading that. What doesn’t put me to sleep can only make me smarter.

  3. And Andy Iro can earn more than other rookies because he has UK citizenship and had an agent who convinced MLS he might go overseas so they paid him more than the minimum.

    A guy like Moffatt came from the USL so they can pay him less because his options aren’t as plentiful as Iro.

    I think you don’t give the teams enough credit for their role in the process. Sure, the league negotiates contracts, but I read more and more about the team having autonomy when it comes to negotiating with veteran players. The veil is lifted a little bit each year.

  4. Fair enough, Brian. I just want the veil taken the rest of the way off and don’t see why that can’t happen within a simplified structure. That said, the point regarding the availability of options for individual players is dead-on.

  5. Brian’s right, and you’re right. If teams were negotiating on their own, you’d likely see a lot of the same salaries. Rogers and Iro would still have leverage that Moffat wouldn’t have.

    What the players will be seeking in the next CBA is the right to use whatever leverage they gain with a good season or two under their belts.

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